Men’s Self-Esteem Hurt By Partner’s Success, Says Study
August 31, 2013

Men’s Self-Esteem Hurt By Partner’s Success, Says Study

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, men will feel worse about themselves if their partner succeeds in something; but they are also reluctant to admit it.

It didn’t matter what kind of success a female partner achieved, from being a good dinner party hostess to intellectual pursuits such as aptitude tests. Once the man was informed, his view of himself grew less assured.

However, that phenomenon was only discovered from tests used to determine ‘implicit self-esteem.’ When ‘explicit self-esteem’ was tested, basically meaning asking the man how he felt, he said he felt fine and that news of his partner’s success had not greatly affected him; certainly not negatively. However, implicit self-esteem tests are a bit sneakier, and involve flashing up words on a computer screen for men to rate from ‘excellent’ to ‘dreadful.’ Men’s selection in response to words such as ‘me’ could gauge how their self-confidence levels were at that particular time.

It’s not surprising that men wouldn’t want to admit that their partner’s success would have such a negative impact on them. It makes them look a bit uncaring, self-centered and possibly childish. Not to mention neurotic.

But, then again, it’s maybe not surprising that men would feel like that, deep down. Craig Finn, singer of New York rock band The Hold Steady, sang, “Guys go for looks, girls go for status” on their album Boys and Girls in America. It is a musical summary of a fairly widely held view of evolutionary psychology. Although it is a little basic, and although men might not like to admit it, there is still some part of men’s psyche that thinks they should be the successful one in a relationship.

I have several female friends who are very enlightened (and reasonably successful, as it happens) who are also still guided by traditional gender roles. They simply don’t want a male partner who is shorter than them. It goes against their intellectual guidance, but they feel like that nevertheless. Even if we don’t want to think our partners should have any different attributes or failings to ourselves, our instinct from a less liberal past may influence us.

Also in the study, researchers found that women were not adversely affected by hearing of their significant other’s success. Perhaps this is because in things such as aptitude tests they would like to know that their partners are competent. If they were asked how they felt if their male partner had been voted more attractive than themselves, it may have been a different story. Well, actually if they were asked they might deny that they were hurt, but the implicit self-esteem test may show otherwise.

It’s not easy to admit that stereotypes about gender roles may still be based in fact, even if studies are able to determine our subconscious feelings, but without facing the possible realities of these stereotypes as part of the debate, we can’t have the debate sensibly.

On the plus side, the study didn’t necessarily find that men resented their partner’s success, only that they felt bad about themselves in regard to it. Maybe parity would be enough, and most men don’t really want to soar high above their loved one. They just don’t want to seem like a disappointment to them, either.

Image Credit: ArTono / Shutterstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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